As the leader of his own home-based ministry, Paisley Yankolovich is a mentor to the oppressed, the freaks, the weirdos and even quite a few normal people, never missing an opportunity to tell someone they're loved for who they are. But Paisley is also an accomplished singer, his records a mesh of glam rock, show tunes and disco, his shows mixed with cross-dressing, spoken word, music, theater and preaching. His lyrics cover everything from AIDS to abusive parenting to suicide to a strained relationship with mainstream churches that value dollar signs over compassion.
Embracing both his queer identity and outspoken love for Christ (somewhat akin to The Rocky Horror Jesus Show, as others have noted) Paisley's music is preceded by his Christian message, but it can still appeal to the unchurched masses. How? It's truly the essence of Christ's decree of unconditional love--none of the convoluted anti-gay, anti-drug, anti-rock and roll bullshit that Jesus never even spoke about that somehow hijacked mainstream religion and turned into a charade of hate. Paisley is here to remind you of your value and he'll do it by being himself. Which is, of course, fabulous.
The Kitchen, as Yankolovich's ministry is known, meets every Wednesday and Sunday evening at 3206 W. Lamar Rd. in Phoenix. There's free food at 6 p.m., plus one of Paisley's signature performances. Furthermore, all his music, spanning nearly a decade of releases, is available for free download on his website, therealpaisley.com. His next show is Saturday, October 12th at the Arizona State Fair at 5 p.m. We sat down and spoke to Paisley about his unique relationship with Christian spirituality, being "of this world" and what his latest album, Typhoid Mary, is all about.Paisley Yankolovich:
I'm not obligated to tell the truth. I want you to know that.
Up On The Sun: You are obligated. You're obligated by Jesus. Who? Who? [laughs]
Briefly, describe your ministry in your own words. [laughs again]
Too broad? Nah, I got it. I think my perception of what I do and everyone else's perception rarely coincide. In my mind, I am taking every aspect of my personality, my talents, my life experience, my Jesus experience, and doing as much as I can with it on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis to reach as many souls for Christ.
I hear that I'm a performer, I hear that I'm a preacher, and I hear that I hold Bible studies, and I hear that I have rock shows. And I do all that, but the difference is, for everyone else, they're taking a snapshot out of a moment of my life and defining my entire life by it. But I'm actually living to get to these moments. So to me, my ministry is whatever's in front of me and whatever's the most useful, powerful, and memorable tool to affect another human being's path.
I realized I had a lot of neat stuff to work with, so I took everything that I've been given and poured it into my mission, which is to use every available tool God's given me to affect the next person's path towards Christ.
You say saving souls for Christ. What does that mean to you, and why is that important? As nonconformist as I've been about going about it, I'm pretty mainstream traditional in my reasons for doing it. But simply because I know Jesus, I'm beyond convinced that once we get in a right relationship with him, our entire lives are called to be devoted to the salvation of others. Our lives as we knew it ended when we accepted Christ. That is the fullness of being born again.
It's not just being born again in the Spirit, and born again into acceptance with God, but it's literally dying to a lifestyle of pursuing our own whims and fancies, but fulfilling the great commission to present as many souls to Christ as possible.
When you say it that way, it's almost as if you're keeping score. I know that's not what you mean, but to a non-believer, it could come across that way. Yeah, and far be it for me to give much thought how I come off to a non-believer. I think there's unwritten rule that says non-believers can come off any way they want, and I have to mind my P's and Q's to not come off weird to a non-believer. I say, you can come off any way you want, and I can come off any way I want.
Paul, in the Bible, compares our experience to running a race. Now that sounds kind of competitive. Jesus compared it to pushing a plow, and being the best farmer is competitive to other farms. However, when one is walking through the actual experience, one realizes it's carnal to be in competition with other people, but it is not carnal to be in competition with yourself.
I feel I have no competitors in this life. I'm compared to every music artist I've ever copied, I mean heard of, [laughs] and I don't feel in competition with them. I have no competition. If you put me and Marilyn Manson in the same room, you'd have two completely different human beings. I don't feel threatened by what other artists do, nor do I feel I should be threatening, but in the same way with ministry I feel I'm in competition with myself. What can I do today more effectively than I did yesterday? So I hope it's more like being on a team. And trying to be the best player in my position on the team.
You've seen a lot of ups and downs. Where would you say you are now? I think that I perceive a lot of ups and downs in my ministry, and when I look back, there's a massive amount of work and accomplishment. I think that's the truth. So my experiece is, ten minutes ago I was up, ten minutes from now I'll be down. I'll be complaining about something later, I'll be jumping for joy for something--I'm very much human in my emotions that when things look good, I think they look good, and when things look bad, I think they look bad. However, in retrospect, a lot of good covered up a lot of good that was coming that I didn't realize was bad, and a lot of bad robbed me from experiencing a lot of good that was also happening at the time, and in the end, it's always the beauty of having stuck it out this long.
The beauty is that now no matter when I look back, there will always be a massive amount of work and accomplishment.
And where do I honestly think I am now? I think that I'm better. I'm better. My voice is better, my temperment around everything is better, my confidence in my Lord is better. I'm playing the Arizona State Fair. Seriously, close your eyes and be Paisley for a minute--what should I wear to the State Fair? What should I sing? There's no logical answer for that. I shouldn't be there. I'm thrilled, but who asked me? What's wrong with them? What were they thinking?
This is a state fair, and I get they have Alice Cooper there. But Alice Cooper is pretty much as benign as the Pillsbury Doughboy to most people now, and I don't mean that in a bad way. But I think that I'm not terrified about it. I'm going to be facing a massive group of people, and I'm going to be the freak in a cage. I know that no matter what happens, Jesus is going to meet me on that stage, and I'm going to walk away going, "It was exactly as He intended."
It's almost irrelevant what I prepare. I think for me, personally, it's the best it's ever been, because when you get to that point you can enjoy it more and have more of a sense of humor about it. Fiscally, every year's a little bit better than the year before, and now my downloads have been higher than they've been, increasingly higher, they don't really fluctuate.
Again, when I look back, everything gradually grows, leaving a massive amount of work and accomplishment. What I'm seeing it seems like one day is good and one day is bad.
I know you're not concerned with the opinions of other people, but what is your take on the whole Christian philosophy that you're not supposed to be of this world when it comes to your incredible passion for pop culture? That's a polite way of putting that. Don't you mean my 'fuck you' in the face of pop culture and Christian culture? That said, I will tell you the truth. I've seen me, and I've seen the world. I don't think there are a lot of peole like me. So I don't think I am like this world.
However, I've seen popular Christian preachers and I've seen millions of people that look like them. In the corporate world, in education, in government. So in reality, aren't they more of this world in their appearance than I am? And isn't it ironic that these are the people that come after me saying I'm too worldly?
I go, It's very funny, because you blend right in. There's nothing about you that says I'm different, look at me, I have something to say. Whereas I'm walking around and everywhere I go, even in my most morning state people are constantly looking at me, constantly drawn to me, and every day of my life I use that as an excuse to tell them who I am and what I stand for.
So therefore, I don't think I'm anywhere near of this world. And even if you put me up alongside the Alice Coopers, the Marilyn Mansons, and God forbid the Lady Gagas, you could go, yeah, there's similarities in fashion or whatever, but again, you're still talking about a small amount of humanity. Even if I emulate certain rock stars, it's still less than a quarter of a percent of humanity that I would blend in with. Therefore, how did normalized businesswear become what Christians are supposed to look like? That seems to be very carnal to me. I would think, in Jesus' day, the last thing people would want to look like would be the accountants and tax collectors and government officials.
That's a really good point. I'm reaching a group of Christians that nobody will get near, and they have to see that I'm authentic, because I am. But then I realize I'm not reaching that group of people, I'm reaching conservatives and showing them that they're uptight hatemongers. Therefore, the real answer is, I think [they're] worldly. I think guys in suits and ties are very worldly. Why on earth are you wearing a suit and tie at church? Seriously, why are these women dressing up for church?
OK, but there is the inverse of that, in my experience, the non-denominational churches will tell you 'Hey, come to church in jeans, doesn't matter!' And then those are the kinds of people that will be very warm and friendly, they'll talk about God's love over and over, they'll shake your hand at the door, say 'Join our Bible study,' ask for a tithe, and then kick you out. It's not really a genuine thing. Which, to be honest, is why I'm attracted to your ministry, because you are genuine. You're not just trying to be my friend so you can look good. I, personally, outside of my churchianity, I absolutely love people. I really do. If you're an animal lover, the way you find something in all animals that you find interesting and fascinating, I'm like that with people. Therefore, I'm honestly convinced that every single person was created with purpose, and that they matter, and Jesus died for them, so for me to take something away from that would be sin. Therefore, it's easier just to love people.
The hippy churches that you're talking about, that were birthed in the Jesus movement of the hippies in the '70s, when all of a sudden we were wearing sandals and shorts and tie-dye shirts to church--a lot of really loving churches were birthed out of that. Like, the entire Vineyard movement was birthed out of that. And I was very much involved with that.
What happened over time is what happens everywhere. It feels really great to go to a church and maybe go to a park and worship the Lord in the park and have all these warm, fuzzy feelings, but the problem is, you're still gonna have problems, struggles, failures, tragedies in your life.
So a day comes where even if you're wearing shorts and a t-shirt and you're worshipping Jesus in a park and you're even allowed to smoke at church, one day you wake up and go, I still have to battle my life. I still have to live it, I still have to pick up my cross.
We lost our church building, and we really did meet in a park, and I fought tooth and nail that we didn't go back into a church building because we were in a park and hundreds of people were gathering around with our amazing music, because this was Hollywood and I was one of the worship leaders. I mean, we had a great band!
But no matter what, even if you're living in a hotel getting room service, if you have a life falling apart, you begin to resent your environment. So the next generations of Christians were bitter. So you went from these happy, loving environments to these, like our schools, environments run by the numbers. We need to get people saved, we need to get people tithing, we need to get people. It's terrible what happened. There's still great Vineyard churches and great non-denominational churches that aren't like that, but it's such a struggle to survive in ministry.
People love to be around it--I get both kinds, people who love to be around the minister and people who love to be around the rockstar, who will not fork up a penny to keep things going. Everyone wants to take me to lunch, but if I say take the money you were gonna take me to lunch with and donate it to my ministry, I'll never hear from them again. That creates an environment of stress and bitterness, and then all of a sudden you're standing there going, we want you to give us money or we don't want you to come back. And then you're that guy.
All across America that happened. You had super star pastors, you had famous people in the congregation, this is where all the movie and rock stars went so you had the best worship in the world because you had so much talent. But what you didn't have was any money flowing and these churches were dying. You could go on Sunday and have 500 people, but the church was going bankrupt. Everyone was going, but nobody was paying.
You don't play in town as much. Why is that? You say that in a month where I'm playing a lot more than I have in a long time. When I was playing in town, I was responsible for the success of the evening wherever I went. So I was either renting a room or guaranteeing a door or playing such shitty places that they didn't care, but even they put pressure on me for people to buy drinks. I started The Kitchen a year and a half ago with it in mind that I was gonna stop making myself available to play everywhere, to pull the plug on that so that people would come to The Kitchen.
I did Metrocenter the other night and it was the most fun I've had in years. I watched the video and I was like, I don't even want anyone else to see this, I'm having too much fun. I've lost all my sneer. The reason I agreed to these shows because they were local and I would meet people I could invite to The Kitchen.
What's the story behind Typhoid Mary, your latest release? Typhoid Mary takes places in a world devastated by a virus and it takes place just after and just before Christ, meaning the section of time after Christ was crucified and ascended and just before he comes back. I've been playing around with the concept of Typhoid Mary for the last couple years, and all my records are concept records. It goes all the way back to Bowie's concept records and Quadrophenia and Tommy by The Who. I really felt like it's not enough to put together 10 really good songs, it's really important to have a story or a cohesive theme that each record was about.
I loved the concept of Typhoid Mary, and I'm a little surprised how many people don't know what that is. Typhoid Mary is the one who spreads virus across the land. Patient Zero. Paul was Typhoid Mary for Christianity, depending on how you want to look at it. The Typhoid Mary says I'm spreading this evil thing that I do, Typhoid Mary says I'm spreading the Gospel, Mary has a queer reference to it, and so I loved the title and I had it a couple years and sat down and asked, what do I want the record to be about?
And I wanted the record to be about everything but Jesus. I want to do a total ungospel record so that when people say this isn't a gospel record Paisley, you're falling away from God, I can say, Jesus is everywhere on that record except in the character's songs.
I wrote it like show tunes, and I wrote it like theater, and every song is some desperate cry or some hopeful cry of basically falling down the well. And without any doubt knowing there's not going to be a rescue of any kind. I wanted to do a record of total hopelessness and yet have it be a fairly pleasant experience to listen to. I performed it at the Phoenix Festival of the Arts a year ago and I loved how profoundly misunderstood it was. You know it's good if nobody understands it. That's my excuse for everything.
What will you be doing at this show? I will be very honest with you, I have no idea what I'm going to do at the State Fair. I thought I did, I really did. I had a whole plan and now I'm not sure. I go back and forth and I could do this, I could do this ... The thing about an environment like the State Fair, you know Cheap Trick just played there. When Cheap Trick shows up, they're gonna do the Cheap Trick show.
I'm not going to have that advantage. I'm going to be that weird thing people experience when they're walking by. Aside from the group of people who come to see me, I will have strangers that are not expecting to see me. I'm not going to have a logical, comfortable concert setup. So basically I'm going to have a stage for an hour. I'm going to be able to do, say whatever I want and handle it how I see fit.
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So I am currently putting together a lot of retrospective stuff, because next year marks a decade for this music ministry. I'm putting out the decade record, and I plan to do some decade shows where I do some of the old stuff. I'm planning on doing that stuff at the State Fair it would be a fun place to explore some of the older songs and see what audience shows up for this, what audience sticks around for this. 99 percent of what I do is improvised on the spot anyways.
I'll go in with a setlist, I'll go in with a scripture, but I will really wait until the Holy Spirit tells me right on the spot how to handle something. I think the State Fair is just begging for going in with no plan whatsoever and you'll know exactly what to do when I start. But what do you think I should wear?